Monthly Archives: December 2012

The People’s Library

I helped the folks at the Friern Barnet Occupied Library (aka the People’s Library) write the following press release.

If anyone can help us get word out, the librarians would be delighted 🙂

Even if this library is evicted, the  story could help inspire others to fight back when their local services are cut, when big business takes precedence over local needs and wishes, and when councils forget that their mandate is to serve local people and communities.

ShiftHistoric library

Some fantastic pics of ‘Earth Circus’ at the Occupied Library last night.

Supporters of Friern Barnet People’s Library in Barnet, North London, are to return to court at 09:30 on Monday 17 December as Barnet council seeks possession of the building and the surrounding green land. [1]

“Join us in Barnet and show Barnet council that libraries and communities matter more than profits for big business.

Friern Barnet library closed in April despite the protests of local residents. The sudden closure was seen as part of Barnet council’s plan to outsource public services in the borough, and to profit from the sale of the property.

In September the library was re-opened by the Occupy movement, local people and experienced librarians in protest at the library’s closure and to provide a programme of community events as well as essential library services. 8000 donated books line shelves that were cleared by the council. The ‘People’s Library’ project is a protest and an emergency service; volunteers do not see it as a longterm solution and are united in calling for the re-institution of a publically-funded, professionally-run library at the Friern Barnet site.

Barnet community galvanised
Sinead Burke, a drama teacher resident in Barnet, volunteered to run baby and toddler sessions at the library. She explained “I chose to offer my time to run this as I attended ‘Rhyme Time’ sessions at the library when it was council-run […] I am disgusted that taxpayers will no longer have access to activities for their children in Friern Barnet and commend those who are working so hard to save our library”.

Local architect Maria Persak-Enefer applied to have the Friern Barnet library building recognised for its “significant contribution to the borough’s heritage and character”. On 10 December confirmation was received that the library will be added to the Schedule of Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Interest and the Register of Assets of Community Value. Although these listings will not prevent sale of the building, they may restrict development. [2]

Investment in jobs, alternatives to austerity, and making the shift to renewable energy sources were hot topics at ‘Shift: an economy for the 99%’, a recent event held at the occupied library. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Sara Ayech of Transition Towns joined more than 60 educators, activists and community members to explore constructive resistance to current policies.

Not only libraries
Residents’ groups claim that Barnet council is aggressively pursuing an undemocratic outsourcing programme incongruously dubbed ‘One Barnet’. Citing a “relentless drive for efficiency” [3] as a key principle, this programme will see the privatisation of approximately 70% of Barnet’s public services, a move expected to result in large scale redundancies.
On 6 December a council meeting at Hendon Town Hall, intended to rubber-stamp the handover of ‘back office’ services to Capita, was disrupted by local activists. Protesters succeeded in derailing the meeting and held their own public assembly in the committee room. The Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) announced on 11 December that a Judicial Review of the One Barnet programme is being sought. [4]

Not only Barnet
Vicki Morris, of BAPS, encourages grassroots groups everywhere to resist outsourcing and defend public services: “It is time the spotlight was shone on these companies. This situation is being repeated all over the UK, as outsourcing companies line up to take over services. They offer cash-strapped councils promises of savings that often never materialise. Meanwhile, they exploit council employees to turn a profit”.

Unite to defend
Those protesting the sale and development of Friern Barnet library and its surrounding green space have the following clear message for the council:

“Library campaign groups working with the Occupy movement and the local community share a common aim: that Friern Barnet library should be re-opened in the existing building by Barnet council and preserved as a fully funded library and community space with the direct involvement of local people in the decision making process. The occupation of the building is a direct action that has highlighted the massive community support for Friern Barnet library, and has challenged not only its closure but the entire One Barnet programme and the privatisation of our public services in general.”

The group has issued a call-out for support during the court hearing beginning 09:30 on 17 and 18 December at Barnet Civil and Family Courts Centre, St Mary’s Court, Regent’s Park Road, Finchley Central, N3 1BQ.

Contact: friernbarnetcommunitylibrary@gmail.com  ;  07592 231150 / 07722454777 / 07769791387

Librarians revolt!Save the Library

[1] Civil and Family Courts Centre, St Marys Court, Regents Park Road, Finchley Central, London N3 1BQ

[2] http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/10093118.Library_s_listed_status_will_not_prevent_sale/

[3] http://www.barnet.gov.uk/info/920056/one_barnet_transformation_programme/904/one_barnet_transformation_programme

[4] http://www.theoutsourceblog.com/2012/12/barnet-council%E2%80%99s-mega-outsourcing-deal-sparks-judicial-review/

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Diggers, Occupiers, Co-operators, Revolutionaries and a Rogue Council

One Barnet, Two Barnets, Broken Barnet & Barnet Library…

Barnet is in north London. I’ve never been there but I’ve been hearing a lot about it recently.

Initially, Barnet hit the indymedia because the (Tory) council closed the library there in April, despite pleas by local residents. The council’s plan was (and probably still is) to sell it off to developers. People involved in the Occupy movement got wind of this and went along to see if they could help the locals get their library back. In September the library was Occupied and re-opened. Soon 8000 donated books were lining the shelves and the library was restored to its function as a community hub.

The library has been hosting a wide range of events, from music gigs to book launches, French lessons to kids’ comic-making workshops. Some of those involved mounted a campaign to get the library recognised as a ‘Building of Local Architectural or Historic interest’ – their recent success will make it more difficult for developers to demolish the building, which will make buying it a less attractive proposition. Meanwhile, the council has launched a legal battle to enable it to re-close the library. Friern Barnet library supporters, local residents and Occupy activists will be back in court on December 18 for the next round in the legal battle.

[more info and petition to sign: fbpeopleslibrary.co.uk]

Having developed a taste for taking community matters into their own hands, on 6 December Barnet residents and their supporters stormed a council meeting and temporarily occupied Hendon town hall to protest and discuss the council’s decision to privatise local services in the ‘One Barnet’ sell-off programme, which would see services such as planning and environmental health outsourced to Capita plc (alleged tax-avoiding profiteer). The residents succeeding in derailing the hand-over meeting and are seeking a Judicial Review of the sell-off.

Two days after their ‘polite English revolution’ (it was noted that those involved in storming the town hall brandished statements not spears and apologised to the cops for troubling them), Barnet residents were amongst those who responded to UKUncut’s invitation to ‘Target Starbucks‘. Drawing a parallel between tax avoidance and cuts to public services, protestors swarmed into the Barnet branch of Starbucks and turned it into – you guessed it – a library for a day.

[more info at barneteye.blogspot.co.uk ; wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk ; occupylondon.org.uk (council meeting), occupylondon.org.uk (Starbucks), occupylondon.org.uk (library), occupynewsnetwork]

Diggers2012 are dug in for Winter Solstice and Christmas…

I visited the Diggers eco-village at Runnymede ten days ago. Alighting from a train at Egham station after dark, armed with a torch and directions copied from the website, I set off up Cooper’s Lane before diving into the woods onto a network of muddy but navigable paths. On my last visit I took the long route via the Magna Carta Memorial, so was a little disoriented as I approached from the opposite direction, but aided by a full moon shining through bare branches I found my way to the camp.

In the four months since I was last there, things have changed a lot.  The wooden-framed, earth-walled longhouse has been extended and further enclosed to shield from the elements a communal kitchen. A geodesic dome approximately 24ft across nestles into trees beyond the longhouse, providing an indoor meeting space. Solar panels (rescued from the St Paul’s Occupy camp) provide enough power for the Diggers to host film nights; a generous donation was recently used to buy a projector and screen, which turns the dome into a rustic cinema complete with cob-walled fireplace. Fresh spring-water was found just uphill from the camp and is now piped down into the village; when I was there Vinnie, a newish resident, was preparing to lag the pipes to prevent them freezing up in the expected cold snap. A hot water shower area with drainage was halfway built – to date, it had only produced tepid water but Vinnie assured me that the technical hitches would soon be overcome.

I slept in the dome and woke to a valley of frosted fields sparkling in winter sunlight. Residents of the eco-village have been busy constructing their own sleeping and living quarters over the last couple of months, each to their own design and timescale. Some are happy to reside in the tents they lived in at the St Paul’s Occupy camp last winter. Others have built yurts, tepees, lean-tos, benders and cabins. There’s a ramshackle treehouse and a few abandoned attempts to build shacks and sheds. What I loved most about the set-up was that almost everything used in the structures is natural or reclaimed material; and every structure is different.

No one seems to know if or when the Diggers will be evicted. I’d like to see them planting a forest garden in the springtime.

Finally; A BOOK REVIEW

The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel by Polyp 

Less a graphic novel, more a heavily-illustrated primer on the subject of co-operation, for grown-ups and kids over about 10. Simple language avoids condescending to the novice co-operator and the design / artwork is varied and attention-grabbing: cartoons, comic strips, photographs, handwritten notes, quotes and posters break up the text. A slim 70 pages, taken up mostly with pictures, but, somehow, packed with masses (and masses) of information. I’m sure I learnt – and possibly even retained – more about history and biology in an hour with this book than I did in a year at school.

Chapters on ‘Yesterday’, ‘Today’, ‘Always’ and ‘Tomorrow’ take readers on an unlikely journey. From the industrial revolution via the Luddites, Peterloo Massacre and Rochdale Pioneers, to the inside of a human cell and a critique of the pronouncements of Darwin and Dawkins… from birds and bees to snake-catchers, football teams and the collapse of the Argentinian economy… culminating in a fictitious trip to Mars in 2044. The Martian adventure is a little tame; for me, true tales of the courage and grit shown by our co-operative ancestors are way more impressive than this final flight of fancy, but kids and space enthusiasts may cheer to see the new-age Rochdale Pioneers make it off-planet.

Educational, not overtly political but subtly revolutionary, this inspiring ‘novel’ jumps off the page and lodges in your brain. It’s a reminder that ordinary people have been fighting powerful elites for a very long time, that some battles have been won, and that if we work together we have the strength to win more, for “altruistic groups beat selfish groups” or, as Polyp puts it, “good guys finish first”.

Author and artist Polyp is a co-operator and political cartoonist. His politics are a mash-up of “Bill Hicks, radical democracy, direct action, the co-operative movement, Karl Popper…”. He lives in Manchester, makes props for protests and is into tactical activism.

The Co-operative Revolution celebrates the 2012 UN Year of the Co-op. It can be read online for free or bought from its publishers New Internationalist (itself a non-profit co-operative) for £5.99.

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The One Man Peace Mission | New Internationalist

On 23 October 2012, a British-Iranian known as ‘Earthian’ sent a cryptic message to his friends: ‘I have set up camp beside the cliffs of Dover. I have given up my British passport. I am on my way to the centre of the earth in Iraq.’

Prior to this, Earthian had spent several months camping in London’s parks. Sometimes he pulled a handcart equipped with tent and solar panel; sometimes he cycled, towing a heavy trailer. Exercise books filled with dense handwritten notes contained his observations, plans and dreams.

Earthian was plotting and testing himself for his mission, a ‘zero-money, zero-carbon walk for peace’, based on the premise that national borders cause unnecessary division and suffering, a resource-based economy should replace our sick monetary version, and that responsibility for the environment is everyone’s business. ‘My main purpose on this journey is to achieve peace in the Middle East,’ he explained from Dover.

It seemed unlikely he would make it as far as France, and yet, little more than a month later, Earthian is in Sulaymaniyeh in Northern Iraq.

Though he describes his journey as a ‘peace walk’, Earthian is pragmatic; he hitch-hikes and uses public transport when possible. He walked approximately 500 kilometres of the 5,000 kilometres from London to Iraq; finding free rides became easier the further east he travelled.

On one occasion an un-requested gift of €100 ($130) enabled him to take a train out of Hungary after he was arrested for carrying no identification (the British Embassy had to provide proof of citizenship to secure his release). At the Turkish border he was stymied by the need for a visa, but swiftly raised €20 ($26) in donations from truck drivers. Few can resist Earthian’s earnest conviction.

Forty years ago, a boy named Kauomarth Valadbagi, from a moderately leftwing family, was growing up in an Iranian village. He studied hard and wanted to go to university, but being a political undesirable – as a young man he actively supported Komalah, a regional Kurdish party – the opportunity was denied him. During the Iran-Iraq war he was called up for military service. Kauomarth was a pacifist and didn’t want to die, so he disappeared, made a new identity for himself, moved around Iran doing casual work and kept his head down. The dream of going to university never went away and, combined with a desire to live freely, compelled Kauomarth to escape across the border into Iraq and then to Turkey. For two years he travelled through Europe, surviving on little, working in the black economy. In 1997 he arrived in Britain, adopted a new name and was granted asylum based on the likelihood of persecution in Iran due to his political beliefs.

He became a British citizen, went to university and worked first as an  engineer, then in IT. He got married and got a mortgage. Then, the global economic crisis hit. ‘I tried to somehow convince myself to carry on, but I couldn’t… I lost my relationship and my house… I decided I’ll never again be part of a system which uses people like modern slaves until we have no energy and become only tools in the system.’

Soul-searching led to the realization that, torn between his Iranian upbringing and British citizenship, neither of which had worked out well, it was time to opt in to something new. Choosing his fourth name, Earthian, he rejected national borders and divisions. The Occupy movement in London gave Earthian a home, like-minded peers and a launch pad for his peace mission; a mission to end suffering and environmental destruction, to change the world one person at a time through discussion and example.

Earthian is currently waiting for a response from the governor of Sulaymaniyeh, having requested permission to set up a prominent camp from which to talk to people about his journey for one month. He intends to visit Gaza, though locals have begged him not to go via Baghdad, as the risk of kidnap is high. He has been interviewed by Gali Kurdistan Television, and a teenager from Faloja named Ali is spreading word about the baffling peace campaigner he found inhabiting a tent beneath the Khasrow Khal bridge.

Kauomarth’s father died some years ago but his mother is alive and lives just four hours from Sulaymaniyeh, in Western Iran. Earthian cannot enter Iran but is hoping someone will bring his mum to visit him and that, courtesy of the governor of Sulaymaniyeh, they can be reunited in an Occupy peace camp in one of the city’s parks.

Find out more at Earthian’s blog.

Up The Anti

Up The AntiReclaim The Future, a one-day conference aimed at the broad Left, took place at Queen Mary University, Mile End on Saturday 1 Dec.

The event was largely an attempt to find common ground, with a view to making a concerted effort to bring about a better future. Anarchists, socialists, activists, communists, writers, journalists, educators, occupiers, Trotskyists, campaigners, union members and unaligned dissidents mingled, debated, and occasionally more-or-less agreed with each other.

Many people seemed to think a session on debt strikes was the most interesting part of the day, especially as participants were encouraged to escape the formal lecture theatre seats, to sit on the floor and on steps, and to chat around the subject, Occupy-style, before feeding back to the whole group. Speakers on this subject included anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years; Nick Mirzoeff, who has been involved with the Strike Debt movement in the US and writes a Daily Observation of Occupy; Michael Richmond of The Occupied Times who is also involved in the nascent Strike Debt movement in the UK; and Jonathon Stevenson of the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Critics of UTA complained of too much speechifying and theorising. This is a valid criticism, and yet theory was balanced with consideration of practical, real-life issues such as journalism, housing, racism, debt and the situations in Greece and the Global South.

There were too many white men – or rather, there were not enough people of colour and there were relatively few women, particularly on the ‘panels’. There were too many talks going on all at the same time with not enough time between the formal sessions for discussion and assimilation of information. There was nothing specifically feminist or environmentally-themed, although these subjects were touched upon in many of the sessions. As both feminism and environmental awareness are pretty central to anti-capitalism and vice versa, it would have been good to have more emphasis on both. The dearth of environmentalists might in part have been due to the Big Rig Revolt, also taking place on 1 Dec in London and around the UK.

Up The Anti was, perhaps, a step towards getting the notoriously fractious Left to admit that most of its parts are broadly on the same ‘side’ (erm, yeah, the left side) and that it might be ok to disagree about some things while still working together.

Pragmatically, it better had be ok to disagree, because we do. Is there any point dealing with mainstream politics and mainstream media? Are attempts to live the dream in the now (aka prefigurative politics) a good thing? Should we engage with people whose ideas we don’t like and try to persuade them to change, or is that a waste of time (or worse, a validation of their views)? How much of a role should unions have in our networks? Anarchism or socialism or communism or no ism? These are questions around which unity cannot be built.

On the other hand: debt resistance, indymedia offensives, international networking, linking climate change and capitalism, anti-discrimination campaigning, claiming space… These are issues that diverse groups, with different theoretical underpinnings and preferred tactics, could work on simultaneously and in parallel, while refraining from sectarianism.

Up The Anti did not Reclaim The Future. It did, however, put up some signposts.

This blog is also posted on Occupy News Network (ONN), along with a huge amount of news, comment and opinion compiled by citizen journalists and Occupy supporters around the world.

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